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Apple threatens to take legal action against employees who leak company information

The company claims it caught 29 leakers last year and had 12 arrested, according to a memo sent to employees.

  • Updated: April 14, 2018 10:19 AM IST
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Apple has reportedly warned its employees to stop leaking confidential insider information on its products and future plans through a memo posted on its internal blog and sent to employees. The company went on to state that it had caught 29 employees for leaking confidential internal information, and had also had 12 of those employees arrested. The memo has been seen and reported on by Bloomberg, which adds that this is among the most aggressive moves by the American consumer technology company to clamp down on internal leaks and control information about its activities.

“These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere,” said Apple in the memo. The company has not commented on the matter further. According to the memo, leaks included a meeting where Apple’s software engineering head Craig Federighi stated that certain software features were delayed, a software package that revealed details about the Apple iPhone X and Apple Watch, and more.

The leaks might seem interesting to readers, but can have a negative effect on the company in many ways. It may also give competing manufacturers a head-start into technology that Apple has popularized. A prime example of this is the notched-screen design that was popularized by the Apple iPhone X. Long before the launch, leaks had revealed that the phone would feature a notch, and this could well have given the competition a head-start into planning similar phones as rivals.

WATCH: Apple iPhone X Review

Here is the full text of the memo, as published on Bloomberg:

“Last month, Apple caught and fired the employee responsible for leaking details from an internal, confidential meeting about Apple’s software roadmap. Hundreds of software engineers were in attendance, and thousands more within the organization received details of its proceedings. One person betrayed their trust.

The employee who leaked the meeting to a reporter later told Apple investigators that he did it because he thought he wouldn’t be discovered. But people who leak — whether they’re Apple employees, contractors or suppliers — do get caught and they’re getting caught faster than ever.

In many cases, leakers don’t set out to leak. Instead, people who work for Apple are often targeted by press, analysts and bloggers who befriend them on professional and social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and begin to pry for information. While it may seem flattering to be approached, it’s important to remember that you’re getting played. The success of these outsiders is measured by obtaining Apple’s secrets from you and making them public. A scoop about an unreleased Apple product can generate massive traffic for a publication and financially benefit the blogger or reporter who broke it. But the Apple employee who leaks has everything to lose.

The impact of a leak goes far beyond the people who work on a project.

Leaking Apple’s work undermines everyone at Apple and the years they’ve invested in creating Apple products. “Thousands of people work tirelessly for months to deliver each major software release,” says UIKit lead Josh Shaffer, whose team’s work was part of the iOS 11 leak last fall. “Seeing it leak is devastating for all of us.”

The impact of a leak goes beyond the people who work on a particular project — it’s felt throughout the company. Leaked information about a new product can negatively impact sales of the current model; give rival companies more time to begin on a competitive response; and lead to fewer sales of that new product when it arrives. “We want the chance to tell our customers why the product is great, and not have that done poorly by someone else,” says Greg Joswiak of Product Marketing.

Investments by Apple have had an enormous impact on the company’s ability to identify and catch leakers. Just before last September’s special event, an employee leaked a link to the gold master of iOS 11 to the press, again believing he wouldn’t be caught. The unreleased OS detailed soon-to-be-announced software and hardware including iPhone X. Within days, the leaker was identified through an internal investigation and fired. Global Security’s digital forensics also helped catch several employees who were feeding confidential details about new products including iPhone X, iPad Pro and AirPods to a blogger at 9to5Mac.

Leakers in the supply chain are getting caught, too. Global Security has worked hand-in-hand with suppliers to prevent theft of Apple’s intellectual property as well as to identify individuals who try to exceed their access. They’ve also partnered with suppliers to identify vulnerabilities — both physical and technological — and ensure their security levels meet or exceed Apple’s expectations. These programs have nearly eliminated the theft of prototypes and products from factories, caught leakers and prevented many others from leaking in the first place.

Leakers do not simply lose their jobs at Apple. In some cases, they face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes. In 2017, Apple caught 29 leakers. 12 of those were arrested. Among those were Apple employees, contractors and some partners in Apple’s supply chain. These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere. “The potential criminal consequences of leaking are real,” says Tom Moyer of Global Security, “and that can become part of your personal and professional identity forever.”

While they carry serious consequences, leaks are completely avoidable. They are the result of a decision by someone who may not have considered the impact of their actions. “Everyone comes to Apple to do the best work of their lives — work that matters and contributes to what all 135,000 people in this company are doing together,” says Joswiak. “The best way to honor those contributions is by not leaking.”

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  • Published Date: April 14, 2018 10:17 AM IST
  • Updated Date: April 14, 2018 10:19 AM IST